A Jazz Wunderkind, A Haitian Pop Star and Spider Webs at MIT Sounding Series

Album Release Celebration: Djesse Volume 1

What do a jazz wunderkind, a Haitian pop star and spider webs all have in common?

They’ll all be making appearances throughout the MIT Sounding Series 2018-19 season.

The series kicks off with a familiar face: Jacob Collier, the London-born jazz prodigy who rose to fame with his multi-layered, kaleidoscopic YouTube covers of pop songs. In those videos Collier played and sang all the parts himself, a feat made possible with a split-screen and a lot of overdubbing. Live performances were another matter, of course, and two years ago MIT’s Ben Bloomberg helped Collier adapt his unique digital style to the stage.

On Dec. 8 Collier returns for a two week-long residency with MIT Festival Jazz Ensemble, where he will continue his groundbreaking collaboration with Bloomberg at the intersection of music and technology, and perform an album release concert featuring music from his new album, Djesse Vol. 1.

Jacob Collier. "Imagination Off the Charts," MIT, 2016. Photo: L. Barry Hetherington.
Jacob Collier. “Imagination Off the Charts,” MIT, 2016. Photo: L. Barry Hetherington.
Jacob Collier. "Imagination Off the Charts," MIT, 2016. Photo: L. Barry Hetherington.

Birthday Music

In March, MIT will celebrate the 80th birthday of one of its most eminent professors, John Harbison. The Pulitzer and MacArthur award-winning composer has premiered works at major institutions all over the world, but his legacy at MIT is equally enduring. Over the course of his tenure at the university, Harbison founded the composition program, mentored students and younger faculty, and—after becoming an Institute Professor, MIT’s highest faculty honor—started the Vocal Jazz Ensemble.

The March concert will feature a collaboration with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, which performs and commissions contemporary orchestral work—a fitting pairing, given Harbison’s forward-thinking streak. “There’s a musical ecumenicalism to him,” Ziporyn says. “He’s always been open to and respectful of a very wide range of musical styles, and over the years he’s imbued our whole program with that ethos. It was a big part of the reason I came here over 25 years ago, and it’s even more true today. We’d be a very different place without him.”

A Web of Collaboration

And then, at long last—the spiders. This spring will see the American premiere of the Spider’s Canvas, a virtual 3D reconstruction of a spider’s web in which each strand is “tuned” to a different note. Conceived, designed, built and performed by Ziporyn, Christine Southworth, MIT lecturer Ian Hattwick and graduate student Isabelle Su, this virtual sonic landscape is the instrument through which a musician traverses, like a spider through its web.

The project, which will debut in Paris this fall, was inspired by the work of the artist and engineer Tomás Saraceno. Saraceno is known for his remarkable sculptural installations, intricate 3D renderings of spider webs blown up to epic proportions, and for his Arachnid Orchestra Jam Sessions, which featured human musicians communing with spiders.

Ziporyn, whose own “duo” recordings with the amplified vibrations of spiders became part of the Arachnid Orchestra repertoire, describes the Spider’s Canvas as an attempt to take some of Saraceno’s concepts a step further. “In the Spider’s Canvas we’re attempting to to actually be the spider, to see what she sees and to represent that literally through sound,” he says.

Evan Ziporyn, Spider Salon. Credit: Studio Tomas Saraceno.
Evan Ziporyn, Spider Salon. Credit: Studio Tomas Saraceno.

The end of the season will welcome residencies by two first-rate, and very different, musicians: the Haitian singer and rapper BIC, known for his message-driven music and clever wordplay, and the innovative American pianist Joel Fan. BIC will work with MIT’s Senegalese drum ensemble, Rambax, and Fan will perform works by MIT faculty and student composers.

It’s a typically diverse lineup for the Sounding series. But Ziporyn says the new season shows just how much the series has grown. “Five years ago it was harder to do these collaborations, so a lot more of the events were stand-alone,” he says. Now, artists embed at the university and work closely with the students and faculty. “That says something about MIT’s investment in the arts,” Ziporyn says. “And new art particularly.”




Special Orchestral Concert Celebrating the release of Collier’s Djesse Vol. 1 and his return to MIT

December 8, 2018 / 7:00pm
MIT Kresge Auditorium, Building W16
48 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA

$25 general admission and $10 for MIT community

2018-19 Terry and Rick Stone Concert

Purchase tickets

Posted on November 13, 2018 by Amelia Mason